Symbols and Symbolism

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on March 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143

Symbolism is the use of symbols (objects, colors, characters, and so on) to represent certain abstract ideas or qualities to give a literary work a deeper and often more profound meaning. Be careful not to use symbolism too casually! Strong examples of symbols must go beyond the literal and will (most likely) contain multiple layers of meaning.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Guide to Literary Terms Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Correct example:

  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, mockingbirds symbolize innocence and vulnerability, giving the reader a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics at play in the novel.

Incorrect example:

  • “When Lennie says, ‘Come on, George. Tell me. Please, George. Like
  • you done before,’ this symbolizes his desire to eventually own a farm with George.”
  • In this case, the term symbolism is being used too loosely. Be mindful that you don’t use “symbolizes” when you really mean to say “indicates” or “demonstrates.”


Explore all literary terms.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial